How Long Does SEO Take?

by Paul Lee | SEO Expert

Patience is a virtue, particularly in SEO.

When a business approaches us for help with SEO, one of the most common questions is, “How long will it take for us to see results?” It calls to mind the martial arts teacher telling his new student, “First you must learn patience.” The student replies, “Patience, yeah yeah, how long is that going to take?”

We know most businesses aren’t asking this question out of impatience. They want clear and reasonable expectations. In SEO, there are few clear-cut answers; you’ll usually hear us respond to most questions with, “It depends.” And that’s absolutely the case here.

However, a good guideline is 4-12 months to see positive reactions and improvements in your search rankings. Let’s unpack that a little more and see what that might look like for your business.

An SEO Expectations Timeline

A new SEO campaign usually involves some background work before changes are made to the website. Keyword research, a thorough SEO audit, and other steps are the foundation for what will be built. For probably at least the first month, the SEO work is invisible. Depending on the size of the site and the complexity of the changes required, this can take even more time.

That “invisible” preparation will be key to your future success, though. We don’t want “Ready, Fire, Aim”, we want “Ready, Aim, Fire!”

Once site changes commence, the real clock starts. From here, there are often a few easily accomplished tasks that will reap some immediate benefits. There will be a little bump of improvement as Google takes these changes onboard.

Around 3-4 months, expect to see more significant positive changes. In fact, Google themselves say that companies should give their SEO efforts 4-12 months to see results. That said, the time required can vary depending on a number of factors.

Time Factors in SEO

One of the factors is your domain age. Google simply trusts older sites more than newer sites. It does so because we all do that. Would you rather have an experienced home builder or one who started last week? If your site has been around for 6 months, it’s simply going to take some time for it to be fully trusted by Google. No SEO can really change that, except by not making it worse through using poor techniques or strategies that Google dislikes.

A second factor is your past track record. If you’ve worked with some sketchy SEO companies in the past and they’ve used some now-frowned-upon techniques, you may find yourself in a hole that will take extra effort to climb out of. Don’t expect a new SEO to instantly undo the damage. It doesn’t work like that.

That’s because SEO success is also very much about a third factor: your consistency over a long period of time. It’s a process of accumulation. Every time you do the right thing, every page you create that’s valuable and useful; each of those small steps adds up. If you could wave a magic wand, then the process would be easily manipulated. Instead, Google rewards real companies that do things properly for their real customers. There are no shortcuts.

The fourth and final factor we’ll discuss here is also the toughest to see: your competitors are also doing SEO. In some industries, there may not be a ton of companies pushing hard. In that case, it’s relatively easy to separate yourself from the pack by investing wisely in SEO. Other industries are packed top to bottom with businesses spending every month on professional SEO. For them, any improvements will be hard-won and likely take more time. But at the same time, your business in that space will likely have to continue to spend on SEO to avoid being crushed.

The Best Time to Start SEO is Now

When it comes to SEO, we can really utilize a lot of the old clichés, like “slow and steady wins the race,” or “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” But the most important thing is to get started. If you’ll pardon one more cliché, “you can’t steer a parked car.”

Talk with an SEO professional. Have your site audited. Develop a clear roadmap for success with measurable goals for increased traffic, leads, and conversions. Get the process going. And then give it some patience to work, grow, and eventually bear fruit. It does work – in time.

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